Your core, aka your abdominal area, is your body’s central powerhouse: if you have a strong base, it will make every activity easier to do. Athletic aspirations aside, it’s also bad for your health to have a weak core – it’s one of the key things that can cause that dreaded hunched posture, and can also lead to back injury.
What’s more, storing fat in your abdominal area is particularly dangerous due to the proximity of a key vein that will start carrying fatty acids to the liver. Want to fight the flab and tone up? Here are some tips and classes that will help.
What are the core muscles?
Your abs are made up of four main muscles that, as a whole, work to completely cover your internal organs, making them pretty important.
The deepest muscle layer, which stabilises the trunk.
Rectus abdominis: Sits between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. When contracted, this muscle produces the bulges that make up a six pack.
External obliques: On each side of the rectus abdominus, these allow us to twist.
Internal obliques: These also flank the rectus abdominus and are tucked into the hipbones. They also help the body to twist.
Class: Cardio and Core
Trainer: Steven Erwee, 28, from Cape Town.
‘Some people have never properly activated their core muscles. It’s a reflex muscle, so it’s a specialised area to work, but it’s so important – it’s the belt that holds in all your organs and protects your back. This is your power centre, and every athlete uses it. I trained a javelin thrower once, and having strong abdominals added an extra 10m to his throw.’
‘I start with a warm-up to elevate the heart rate. Then I’ll do dynamic stretching – a lot of people use the treadmill to raise their heart rate, but they forget they also need to warm up their joints to avoid injury. Before athletes train, they’ll mimic the movements they’ll be doing as stretching, and this is what we do. I then run the group through a cardio station, with high knee running, skipping or jumping jacks. The main part of the workout is a mix of cardio, upper-body exercise and lower-body exercise, repeated many times: everything from ladder drills, hurdle jumps, TRX rows and squats to knee tucks and lunges. When you do both lower-body and upper-body exercises, the blood has to pump to all extremities of the body, which burns more calories. The goal is to keep the heart rate between 60 to 80 per cent the whole time.’
Steven’s cardinal core rules • ‘Get involved in functional movements and stay away from the machines. Mobility is the name of the game, and movement is vital.’ • ‘If you’re new to core workouts, buy a Swiss ball and do crunches on that – it offers great support for the back.’ • ‘Also, just try drawing in your navel as you sit at your desk. Many people sit all day with rounded shoulders, which makes you prone to back injury.’
Steven’s Cardio and Core class runs Sun-Mon 9am-10am, Dhs50 for non-members. There are also group TRX classes most nights, which are great for engaging the core. The Aviation Club, Garhoud (04 283 3071)
Class: Circuit Bootcamp
Trainer: Parveez Mohamed, 33, from Sri Lanka.
‘If you don’t have a strong core, any jolting movement will affect your bones, joints and ligaments. Muscle is like armour that protects the rest of you from injury.’
‘It has a slight military style, and also features sports-specific training as well. It’s divided into four parts. First is the warm-up, to avoid injury. Then comes the sports-specific training, where we use cones for sprints and directional changes, plus agility ladders and steps. We then move on to a bootcamp, where we use traditional weights to perform walking lunges, shoulder-presses, push-ups with a plate on your back, and the ‘alligator walk’, where you position your body in the plank position and drag yourself along using only your hands – that’s where real core strength comes in. We finish off with five minutes of sprints and interval training. Then the warm-down is gradual and functional – we move as we stretch.’
Parveez’s cardinal core rules • ‘It’s important to know whether you’re working the right muscle. If doing a crunch, constantly remind yourself to work that muscle – don’t focus on how many, focus on form. We call it the mind-to-muscle link. If you do 15 properly, you’ll work the muscle more than doing 200 badly. To get into it, do the crunch super-slow, dig your fingers into your abs and feel the muscle moving.’ • ‘The best start to any ab regime is the plank – you can tighten your stomach and feel it with your hands. Advance the plank by lifting one arm at a time, or lifting a leg.’ • ‘It’s important to use twisting movements to strengthen the core. Your abs are made up of several muscles – it’s not just the six pack.’
Parveez’s boot camp class runs Sun and Wed, 7.30pm, Dhs40 for non -members. Hayya! Health Club, Souk Al Manzil, Downtown Dubai (04 367 3282)
Other classes to try
Pilates A mat-based Pilates class will, over time, improve your posture and strengthen your core at the deepest level. It’s not for those who like to jump around, though. Try Real Pilates, where mat classes cost Dhs65. Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah (04 345 3228)
Fit Ball An inflatable Swiss ball is a great way to isolate the ab muscles and protect the back – you’ll have no chance of cheating at crunches when using one. Try ladies-only club Exhale, where an hour-long Fit Ball class costs Dhs60. JBR, Murjan (04 424 3777)